Summer of Service

By Grace Vomacka ’20

Juniors at Fenwick are required to complete 30 hours of service to fulfill the third year of the Christian Service Project. For freshman year, students participate in a charity initiative in their Theology classes. Sophomores spend a day visiting people in need around Chicago and its suburbs. Junior year is when our service becomes more independent. Although a list of pre-approved volunteer sites is provided, it is really up to us to decide where we want to serve.

The purpose of the Christian Service Project is to serve people who are considered poor or in need. Our ministry experiences introduce us to Christ in unexpected places. Many juniors struggle with figuring out where they want to serve.

Since the year I went into seventh grade, I have spent one or two days a week each summer at Soaring Eagle Academy, a school [in Lombard, IL] for kids with autism and related disorders, which are commonly viewed as a severe disadvantage to a child. The students often struggle with academic and social interactions. (See sidebar.) At Soaring Eagle, students develop interaction and communication skills while achieving higher levels of learning.

Many parents of children with autism decide to enroll their kids in a school such as Soaring Eagle. Therefore, a large number of my peers do not often interact with students who are affected by autism, so these students are often overlooked. Christ spoke for all people while he lived on earth, and he showed intense companionship and love to them. Christ is present in the students of Soaring Eagle in the boundless love they spread.

Continue reading “Summer of Service”

Students-Turned-Teachers Help to Advance the Friars’ Mission

Why is it that such a surprisingly high number of former students return to Fenwick to teach future alumni?

By Mark Vruno

Presently, there are approximately 140 teachers, administrators and staff members at Fenwick High School, and 38 of them have walked the hallowed halls in Oak Park as students. Over the course of the school’s nine decades in existence, many more former pupils have returned to work and serve. “People come back to Fenwick because of the impact the school had on their lives,” believes Social Studies/History Department Chair Alex Holmberg ’05. “Whether that impact was inside or outside the classrooms, Fenwick leaves a powerful impression on everyone,” says Mr./Coach Holmberg, who triples as the school’s clubs/activities director and the defensive coordinator of the varsity football team.

Alex Holmberg ’05

“The opportunity to shape how future students approach the rest of their lives is incredibly powerful,” he notes, “and that potential draws so many people back into the building. Thinking about that opportunity to help prepare and motivate future Friars is what brought me back to Fenwick, and that thought is what motivates me to continue to help the school in whatever way I can.”

Principal Peter Groom, who has taught Friars since the 1980s, reports that many of the Fenwick graduates he has hired, he had in the classroom. “We get to know our students during their time here,” Mr. Groom explains. “We get to know their intelligence, their values, their passion and their work ethic. Typically, our graduates are also committed to our mission. When we hire people who are committed to our mission, we hire people who want to remain a part of our community for a long time. One of the keys to building a mission-based school is to have teachers who are committed and who demonstrate the aforementioned values.”

Roger Finnell ’59, a Fenwick mathematics instructor for more than five decades, concurs with fellow alumnus Holmberg:  “Many alumni teach here because they remember their experience at Fenwick as being something special and want to contribute towards continuing the traditions here,” reflects Mr. Finnell, who is Math Department Chair.

Roger Finnell in 1968.

“I knew I wanted to teach math when I started college,” shares Finnell, who also is the man behind the scenes of Black Friars Guild stage productions. “In my senior year at Loyola, after I finished student teaching at Lane Tech in Chicago, I heard about an opening at St. Ignatius, so I made an appointment for an interview. But then I thought I might as well also inquire at Fenwick. I did my Fenwick interview and was offered a position here, so, seeing this as a great opportunity, I quickly cancelled my St. Ignatius interview and the rest is history!”

Representing the Classes of 1959 to 2012

Kevin Roche ’05

Holmberg and math/computer science teacher Kevin Roche ’05 are two of thousands of Friars taught by Mr. Finnell over the past 55 years. “I think that there are a large amount of Friars returning because they had a great experience at the school, believe in what the school does, and want to be a part of ‘steering the ship’ for future generations,” chimes in Mr. Roche, who also coaches cross country. “We have Friars in different aspects of the school (operations, administration, faculty and development) who all had different experiences here yet all want to give back. I believe that this influx of alumni teachers is also a sign of our generation: millennials have a great desire to find meaning and purpose in their work. That is their highest motivator and education is a career that offers immense purpose and validation for the work through strong relationships.”

Grace Liliek ’08

Grace Lilek ’08, who is in her third year of teaching social studies at Fenwick, captures the sentiment of many of her colleagues who also are alumni: “I was inspired to pursue a career in education based on my experiences at Fenwick,” says Ms. Lilek, who also is a learning resource coordinator. “I think experience is the first reason so many of us have come back to Fenwick to teach. You will not meet two Fenwick graduates who had the exact same experience. You can be an athlete or a thespian or participate in academic competitions, and always find your niche. You can also take on all three of those roles and thrive. It is an honor to come back to Fenwick as a teacher and share these experiences with our students.” Lilek continues:

Continue reading “Students-Turned-Teachers Help to Advance the Friars’ Mission”

Fenwick Athletes Find Success at the American Water Polo National State Challenge

It was a productive summer showing for polo-playing Friars in the pool!

By Kyle Perry ’01, Head Boys’ Varsity Water Polo Coach

For the second year in a row, the American Water Polo National State Challenge, July 12, 13, 14, and 15, was held at Fenwick High School’s state-of-the-art Dan O’Brien Natatorium.  “We were excited to return to Chicago for the 2018 National State Challenge,” stated AWP Director of Membership Damon Newman. “Last year’s tournament was a success with many competitive games played.  We are looking forward to the potential participation of teams from throughout the country.”  Teams from Illinois, Connecticut, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee all participated in the high school boys and high school girls tournament.

Paulina Correa ’19

On the girls’ side, the Windy City Water Polo team consisted of returning members of the Fenwick girls’ water polo team, which finished 2nd in the IHSA State Tournament last spring.  After the first four games, the team entered their championship game undefeated.  The team had outscored opponents 68 to 25 in the first four games with wins over Chicago Water Polo Club 24-7, Pittsburgh AQ 15-9, Red Hawks 12-3 and NIPC 17-6.  The championship game saw a back and forth battle between Greenwich AQ and Windy City.  Though Windy City jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, Greenwich AQ was able to get two more goals before the end of the first quarter.  The second and third quarter were much the same, ending in a 4-4 tie and then 7-7.

After five minutes of scoreless action in the 4th, Greenwich AQ found the back of the net to go up 8-7.  Two Windy City goals in the final minute of play sealed the deal and gave the 2018 National State Challenge Championship to Windy City.  The 2018 National State Challenge Champions, all returning Fenwick student athletes, were Paulina Correa, Kassy Rodriguez, Harper Daniels, Xonhane Medina, Alyssa Sayatovic, Payton Nefur, Jorie Silvis, Sam Rodriguez, Cici Jenkins, Tegwyn Hollenbach, Ellie Kaiser and Caroline Doyle.

Dan Lynch ’19

On the boys’ side, Fenwick boys found themselves on opposite teams fighting for the championship.  Windy City Water Polo, which consisted of many Fenwick student-athletes, managed its way to the championship game with victories over LAW 12-11, Cincinnati Marlines 18-6, Vulture 15-10 and Chicago Parks Green 15-6.  The Vulture win in the semi-finals was particularly satisfying as Vulture won that semi-final game last year at the National State Challenge 6-3.  Vulture, a team made up of mainly athletes from Naperville Central also bested the Fenwick team the last two years in the state tournament, including last spring’s IHSA Championship Game.  Both schools will likely be in competition for a state championship in 2019!

The Chicago Park District team also went undefeated heading into the championship game.  In the final game, the Windy City boys had many chances but could not capitalize on the numerous exclusion fouls called on the Chicago Park District.  Going two for 18 on the power play hurt the team’s chances of hoisting the championship trophy.  At the end of one, Windy City trailed 2-1.  This lead grew for the Chicago Park District, which was led by Friars Ivan Soto ’18, Ramses Flores ’19, and Alejandro Perez ’18 to 5-1 at halftime.  Each team scored twice in third period.

Chicago Park District stretched the lead to 9-4.  Two final goals by Windy City ended the game 9-6.  Windy City was led by Fenwick’s Payton Comstock ’19, Dan Lynch ’19, Nate Fisher ’19, Alex Figus ’19, Chris Magyla ’19, Manny Ruiz ’19, Jack Nettleton ’20, Dan Bajda ’20, Diego Sahagun ’20, Brian Moore ’21, Wil Gurksi ’21, Pete Buinauskas ’21, and Caden Giesdorf ’21.  Comstock was named to the All-Tournament Team.

In addition to a 2nd-place finish in the American Water Polo National State Championship, the largely Fenwick-based Windy City Water Polo club went 10-0 in the high school boys’ summer league.

Faculty Focus: Geralyn Magrady

Prior to coming to Fenwick in 2015, English Teacher Ms. Magrady taught for mentor Dr. Lordan in Forest Park 28 years ago!

Magrady_web

What is your educational background?

GM: B.A. – Dominican University; M.Ed. – Northeastern Illinois University

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

GM: The first principal to hire me right out of college (1990) was from St. Bernardine School in Forest Park; his name was Dr. Gerald Lordan. Little did I know back then how blessed I would become with the teaching profession and with that professional mentor. After St. Bernardine, I taught in the English department at Proviso East High School until I became a mom. I stayed home with my sons (Ethan ’18 and Liam ’19) while an adjunct [professor] at Wright College and substitute at Ascension School. In 2008 I returned to full-time teaching as the middle school Language Arts teacher at St. Luke School in River Forest. In 2015, Dr. Lordan welcomed me again, this time as a colleague at Fenwick High School.

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

GM: I enjoy reading and writing. I am currently in research mode for my second work of Chicago historical fiction, the sequel to LINES. That novel earned me the title, 2016 Winner of the Soon to be Famous Illinois Author Project (a self-publishing initiative sponsored by the Illinois Library Association and Reading Across Illinois Library Systems). Since receiving the award, I’ve been speaking at libraries throughout the state about my writing journey. I also dabble in poetry and essays for personal and publishing purposes. I tend to be my most focused and inspired while writing at my favorite spot called the Friendly Coffee Lounge (Berwyn). Being part of a music community (there’s a live music venue next door and a music school upstairs), I’m surrounded by another “love” (music). I’m always taking notes for a future project, a non-fiction book called Friendly Folk, to share the vibrant history of these businesses as well as the heartfelt stories of musicians and patrons who call this place “home.”

To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?

GM: Growing up with four brothers and a sports-fanatic father, I’ve always appreciated sports. Unfortunately, I never got much of a chance to play them because my grade school only offered cheerleading as an organized sport for girls; thus, I started cheering when I was in second grade, a tag-a-long for the 8th grade team (my dad was the basketball coach). So, that’s all for sports, but not for team/club involvement: theater, dance, speech, yearbook, student government, multicultural club, choir, church youth group… I was the Marcia Brady of the ’80s.

Which clubs/Sports/Activities do you run at Fenwick?

GM: I am the Speech Club moderator, and I also coordinate a tutoring program with St. Catherine/St. Lucy School. I enjoy both endeavors but am especially proud of the Fenwick students who tutor with me. The subject? Math!

What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?

GM: All Fenwick students — no matter their religion or class, nationality or race, ability level or personal interest — ALL Fenwick students come from homes that value education and service. A student’s academic progress is a priority, and we all do our part in helping others. We’ve actually talked in my classes about those characteristics, and my students agree.

What personal strengths do you find especially helpful in your teaching?

GM: Respect. There are plenty of rules in life, but that’s my umbrella rule in the classroom. It works. I respect my students, they respect me.

I tell them to succeed in my classroom and in life in general, before they act or speak, ask themselves two things:

  1. Will my actions/words annoy Ms. Magrady?
  2. Will my actions/words disappoint Ms. Magrady?” If the answer is yes to either question, I tell my students to avoid the action or word.

What is the greatest success you have had in teaching?

GM: Each year at St. Luke, the graduating class truly believed they were my favorite class. And they were always right. 🙂

How do you motivate your students to become active learners in your classroom?

GM: Everyone should be ready to participate. A hand-raiser might not be the one called on in class. I also like to use group activities like Quizlet Live, GoogleDocs/Slides for presentations.

Any memorable moments?

GM: Being invited to the Fenwick Hockey Teacher Appreciation Night and accepting the St. Catherine of Alexandria Award. I am truly blessed. A very personal, memorable moment was being on the stage when my son, Ethan [’18], received his diploma. I look forward to a repeated memory this coming May with my son, Liam!

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FENWICK FACULTY FOCI.

 

Q&A with New Student Services/Enrollment Management Director: James Quaid, PhD.

By Katie Bodlak ’18

What was your previous position at Fenwick?

JQ: I started at Fenwick in 1988 as Assistant Dean of Students.  I took over as Dean of Students from ‘89-’92.  I was Associate Principal for Academics from ‘92-’93 and from ‘93-2009 I was Principal.

 

What were you most proud of accomplishing in the time?

JQ: Enrollment increased quite a bit during that period and we did some major renovation projects.  The new gym, pool, library and annex were built. We also replaced the space that had been the old the pool with computer labs, a wrestling room and a teachers’ lounge. Test scores improved (ACT and SAT) and the number of National Merits increased.  We added sports like lacrosse and had a lot of success athletically. Academically we won state and national championships with the JETS and WYSE teams. Our Arts program also grew quite a bit. It was an awesome period to be here.

Where have you been working since Fenwick?

JQ: I served the Archdiocese of Chicago for two years as the Associate Superintendent of Schools.  I was responsible for curriculum, instruction, professional development and was the government liaison for the Archdiocese.  I went to Washington, D.C. and Springfield as a representative of Catholic schools.  After two years of that service, I went back to a school and became the Headmaster of Marmion Academy [in Aurora, IL]. From there I went to DePaul College Prep [formerly Gordon Tech] and was the Principal there for the last five years.

What did you learn at your last few jobs, especially at Marmion and DePaul Prep, that you will apply to Fenwick?

JQ: You know, they had some interesting approaches to education at Marmion. They are really locked into doing certain things a certain way. They are great listeners and they are able to focus well in the classroom, so some of the things that they did there I think would translate well to Fenwick. At DePaul we converted to one-to-one and took some different approaches in the classroom as far as doing more problem-solving activities and group work.  I know that Fenwick has been moving along in that regard.  I need to get caught up with what has been happening with the Friars. When I was at the Archdiocese, I was doing a lot of research on a lot of different things that can apply to almost anything in the curriculum, so I think we can incorporate some of those things to help.

Why did you decide to return to Fenwick?

JQ: Fenwick is one of the best schools in the country. I have been around a lot and have seen a lot of different things, and it is a very unique place. I think it is very special. They take their tradition of excellence seriously. The students get a great education in the Dominican tradition and really learn to express themselves. I don’t know of any other school that requires speech or four years of a foreign language. Students really learn how to write.

Three of my children graduated from Fenwick and were well prepared for life. I am proud of how successful they have been and how they go out of their way to help others. Fenwick played an important role in their development.  They have also made true friends for life. I just want to be a part of a great school.

What is your new position in Student Services going to be?

JQ: I’ll be working down in Student Services with the deans, the counselors and the learning specialists. I’ll also be helping with enrollment and admissions. I use to do a lot of work with admissions at Fenwick, and I did a lot of work with admissions at DePaul. On top of that, I’ll be teaching a A.P. U.S. History course. My first job as a high school teacher was at Lake Forest Academy [Lake Forest, IL] and I began teaching A.P. U.S. History there in 1982. Finally, I will be helping coach [sophomore] football.

What are you looking to bring to Fenwick?

Former Principal Dr. James Quaid is Fenwick’s new Director of Student Services and Enrollment Management.

JQ: I really respect the traditions of the school. I understand the history of the school and appreciate the way things are done and why things are done. I was very fortunate to have worked at Fenwick when there were still some people around who actually knew the people who helped found the school.  They told me why certain things were done a certain way and what the philosophy behind those approaches were. There are a lot of great people at Fenwick — like Mr. Borsch, Mr. Finnell,  Mr. Arellano and Father LaPata — who have been there for many years. They understand that, too. The student’s educational experience at Fenwick will be wonderful when we follow what the original founding father were there to do. I want to help carry on those traditions as much as I possibly can.

Where do you see Fenwick in the next five years?

JQ: I think it has a very bright future with some wonderful plans about many different things. I know they started a Capital Campaign, so within five years I would imagine we would see some of the fruits of that labor.

With Fenwick being more and more plugged in, like with the Class of 2018 being the first class with iPads, how do you think technology at Fenwick will change?

JQ: I’m interested to see where it is going to go. Other countries have not used traditional paperback or hardcover books for years in schools. Around the world, test scores indicate iPads have been used effectively.  You gain some skills from using iPads, but there are other things I think are lost as a result from using them. We have to consider what everyone is doing with technology, assess what is working and what is not working, and study the data on it.  It is a tool and not the whole driving force within itself.

I can tell you that 20 years ago we were doing a lot of great things with technology at Fenwick, and Fenwick has always been at the forefront of it. Fenwick also has some really talented people working with it.

I think the biggest problem with iPads is just keeping students on task and not getting distracted, because students have so much more of an opportunity to get distracted now than they did before. That’s always been an issue, so it is important that teachers are up and moving around and making classes interesting so the students are really engaged.

With you being at Catholic schools for most of your career, what do you think sets apart a Catholic education, especially at the high school level?

JQ: I really believe in faith-based education. One thing that the Dominicans have always stressed is that learning is accompanied by moral and spiritual growth.  Classroom discussions at Fenwick are conducted on a much higher level than at other schools because the theology at Fenwick is strong.  Is it moral? Is it the right thing to do? There are not limitations one finds in public schools so you can really get into some heavy issues, which causes you to think at a higher level.

Fenwick students historically have scored high on standardized tests because they are all able to solve problems and think on a higher level. I think they are learning those skills in a Catholic environment. I really do not know of any other school that does it better than Fenwick. I really don’t. Their classes are so solid and they are so tied together with what everyone is doing with each other. You could be discussing the concept of   “a just war” in Theology when talking about the Mexican War in history class.

Do you have a favorite memory or tradition at Fenwick?

JQ: I like the Fenwick sense of humor. I could give you a million examples. Many people who attend Fenwick are really clever, and there’s an environment where there is a certain amount of cleverness and humor that I have never seen at any other school. Three of my four children went there, too, so I have great memories of them being there and the great experiences they had there. I see their friends from Fenwick often and there’s a bond that I haven’t seen anywhere else. It’s really a special place.

About the Author

Before she graduated this past May, Fenwick Broadcasting Club member Katie Bodlak conducted a telephone interview with past-principal Dr. James Quaid, who — before this summer — had not been back at the Oak Park Catholic school in nine years. Ms. Bodlak soon is enrolling as a freshman at Millikin University in Decatur, IL.

Road Trip on Steroids

The Rosners sold nearly everything and are living their dream of traveling across America!

Dave Rosner, Fenwick Class of 1975.

When Fenwick alumnus David Rosner ’75 retired in March of 2017, he and his wife, Kristine, sold most of their possessions – including two homes in Northern California (their primary residence and a rental property) – and purchased a mobile home. Mr. Rosner’s LinkedIn profile now reads as follows:

Retired
Company Name: Not Working Anymore
Dates Employed: Mar 2017 – Present
Employment Duration: 16 mos. and counting!
Location: Traveling the World
“We bought an RV and we’re out on the road — maybe we’ll see you sometime soon!”

 

Rosner, who resided in Menlo Park, CA, settled on the West Coast more than 30 years ago. He had a successful career as an executive recruiter in Silicon Valley (Keifer Professional Search in San Jose) and as a sales/business development executive in the computer/technology industry (Oracle/Primavera in Redwood City). Meanwhile, Kristine was a human resources/benefits consultant, working with start-up firms and young tech companies.

The Rosners visited Fenwick in September 2017, had lunch with President Emeritus Fr. Dick LaPata, O.P. ’50 in the student cafeteria, and met with Mr. Borsch (who helped Dave get into Lewis University) as well as Math Teacher and Blackfriars Guild honcho Mr. Roger Finnell ’59. (Dave was a BFG member and participated in Banua.) While in town, they also played golf in the annual Pass the Torch outing. (It’s on Sept. 20th this year.) Since then they’ve traveled to Amarillo, Texas; Oklahoma City; St. Louis; Anaheim; San Diego; the Grand Canyon, Palm Desert, CA; Sendona, AZ; Mesa/Phoenix/Scottsdale; Tucson; and Yosemite. Last month alone they were on the road again to Fargo, ND; Omaha and Lincoln, NE; and Cheyenne, WY.

You can follow David and Kristine on Facebook (lots of pics!) and read about the Rosner’s rolling adventures in their “Tales from the Traveling Shanty” blog.

 

Fenwick Faculty Focus: Biology Teacher Dan Wnek

Science/Biology Teacher Mr. Wnek dons his summer-school attire (below). The father of three young daughters came to Fenwick seven years ago from St. Patrick High School in Chicago.

180526_Dan_Wnek_0003_web


W
hat is your educational background?

DW: I have a B.S. in Biology with a minor in Philosophy from Loyola University Chicago, and I’m currently working on my Master’s in Biology from Clemson University.

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

DW: I taught Chemistry and Biology at St. Patrick High School, where I also coached track, cross-country, soccer and volleyball.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?

DW: The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss.  Both myself and my one-year-old daughter, Julia, enjoy it immensely.

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

DW: Outside of the classroom, my main interest is my family, which includes three daughters under the age of six.  When I find extra time, I enjoy playing volleyball, ping pong, soccer and cooking.

To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?

DW: I ran track and cross country, and was part of the NHS [National Honor Society].

Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?

DW: At Fenwick, I coach track and cross country.  I’m also part of the Robotics Club and Kairos.

What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?

DW: Motivated and courteous.

When did you decide to become a teacher, and why did you choose this field?

Continue reading “Fenwick Faculty Focus: Biology Teacher Dan Wnek”

Faculty Focus: Spanish Teacher Dee Megall


Spanish Teacher Mrs. Megall celebrated her 26th year at Fenwick in 2017-18, after migrating from Trinity H.S. in River Forest.

What is your educational background?

DM: I have a B.A. in Spanish from Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin, and an M.A. in Spanish Language and Literature from Loyola University in Chicago. I have also studied in Guadalajara, Mexico, through Arizona State University and took classes at the University of Madrid.

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at FHS?

DM: I began my teaching career at Trinity High School in River Forest in 1970. I am a Trinity graduate and four years later I was back there teaching. I was on the faculty for six years until the birth of the first of our three sons. I stayed home raising the boys for 16 years. I was working on my Master’s degree when I started at FHS in 1992. I have taught the mothers of many of my Fenwick students due to my early years working at Trinity.

To what teams did you belong as a student?

DM: Trinity only had intramural volleyball and basketball teams when I was a student. I was on the volleyball team all four years. The game was completely different from what it is now. We just kept hitting the ball back and forth until someone missed. Only one girl in the school would spike the ball and we all just thought she was being rude!

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

DM: I love to read. My next book is The Bridge at Andau, which is about the Hungarian Revolution. I am very interested in this topic due to family history. In 1956, when my husband was eight years old, his third cousin escaped from Hungary during the revolution and came over and lived with the Megalls from age 18 to 28. We just celebrated his 80th birthday, which was a wonderful family occasion. I also enjoy doing needlepoint and knitting in my spare time.

Continue reading “Faculty Focus: Spanish Teacher Dee Megall”

High-Tech Education Came to Fenwick a Quarter-Century Ago

Where in the World Wide Web has “FenTech” gone and, more importantly, where is it headed? Answers can be found in the growth of the school’s Bernard F. Brennan Computer Science Laboratory and CS programs.

By Mark Vruno

In 1993, could we have fathomed high-school educators teaching entire courses to teenagers on tablet computers? iPads weren’t even a tech “thing” 25 years ago, yet this past school year at Fenwick, the “Introduction to Computer Science” (CS) class was taught entirely on Apple iPads, reports Science Department Co-Chair Dave Kleinhans.

Turning Fenwick’s tech visions into realities over the past two-and-a-half decades has been made possible, in large part, by initial, generous funding from alumnus Bernard Brennan ’56, former chief executive (from 1985-96) of the Montgomery Ward department-store chain. Bernie is the younger brother of the late Edward Brennan ’51, former CEO of Sears, Roebuck and Co. Ed and Bernie, the Brennan Bros., are a couple of Friars’ heavy-hitters:  Bernie is a member of the school’s Board of Directors as well as a 1986 Fenwick Hall of Fame inductee; Ed followed him to the school HOF in ’91.

A peek inside Fenwick’s Bernard F. Brennan Computer Science Laboratory, which officially was dedicated on February 28, 1993.

Twenty-five years ago, the younger Brennan and his family made a major leadership donation to create the Bernard F. Brennan Computer Science Laboratory, which was dedicated in early 1993. Students at the time, as well as members of the Fenwick Mothers’ Club, also contributed financially to the lab’s creation. Now 80 years old, Bernie Brennan’s blue-sky vision of “computerization projects” today partly resides in the virtual “Cloud,” of course. But keep in mind that, in early 1993, while email may have been a mainstream form of communication at most corporations, the Internet was a fledgling technology. Ever so slowly, companies were beginning to launch new, online branding devices called “websites.” The dot-com bubble (1997-2001) was still a few years off.

For Fenwick’s new Brennan Computer Lab, initial purchases in the mid-1990s included hardware, such as AST Bravo workstations and Netstore SCSI CD-ROM subsystems (used for information retrieval long before web browsers and cloud computing became popular), as well as software, electrical upgrades and accessories, including printers and furniture. The lab was designed to be used by the Math and Science Departments as well as the Library and the English Department. Tech-hungry teachers welcomed the new writing-lab segment, which featured desktop publishing systems for the Blackfriars Yearbook, The Wick student newspaper and staff newsletters.

Bernie Brennan’s 1956 yearbook portrait.

“It was clear to me that we were moving into the technology world at that point in time, and I wanted Fenwick to be in the leadership position,” Mr. Brennan reflected recently. “Ironically, I have been heavily involved in the technology sector for the past 20 years! It is easy to give back to Fenwick and our Dominican friends as they have done so much for the Brennan family. Fenwick’s focus on intellectual curiosity, discipline and uncompromising ethics is a beacon for us all.”

“Fenwick’s focus on intellectual curiosity, discipline and uncompromising ethics is a beacon for us all.” -Bernie Brennan ’56

New Millennium’s Web of Tech

Freshman math students in Mr. Andrew Thompson’s class, using their iPads (2017 photo).

It is interesting to note that each of Fenwick’s 1,152 incoming students this fall will have an iPad in her or his backpack. (Members of the outgoing Class of 2018 are the first Friars to have had tablet computers in their collective possession all four years.) With improved anti-cheating security measures in place, some high schools in Illinois already have adopted online final exams. Fenwick teachers have administered online quizzes and tests via their students’ iPads, but most educators in the building are proceeding with caution on that electronic front.

Since 2000, Fenwick has had a Technology Services Department in place that today is staffed by four full-time employees. These high-tech staff members manage the school’s more than 400 computer systems and a highly secure Wi-Fi network as well as some 30 switches and 122 access points — not to mention the telephone and email systems and 92 copy machines/printers! Associate Tech Director Fr. Mike Winkels, O.P. also feeds content to a total of six electronic bulletin boards displayed in the cafeteria, outside the library and elsewhere throughout the school.

Fenwick Technology Director Ernesto Nieto

Fenwick’s students, faculty and staff alike often take this tech group’s behind-the-scenes work for granted. Even those of us old enough to remember slow modems and non-connectivity have come to expect our 21st-century, networked, electronic devices to work – “magically” — with no glitches. “We do a lot of things that people probably don’t think about,” says Director of Technology Services Ernesto Nieto, who came to Fenwick in ’01 by way of St. Ignatius College Prep, the Dominican Conference Center, the Shrine of St. Jude and DePaul University.

To solve a recurring slow-network problem, data-transfer speeds between hardware devices are doubling this summer to 500Mbsp (megabits per second) “Our bandwidth may jump to 1Gbps [Gigabits per second] in the future,” Mr. Nieto predicts. (One Gbps is equal to 1,000 Mbps, or 1 billion bits per second.) Additionally, the tech team is in the process of creating wireless networks for each classroom, which also should unjam bottlenecks and further alleviate network pressure, he believes.

Using Technology – and Teaching It

Last summer, shelves overflowing with dusty, old periodicals and reference books were removed from about one-fourth of Fenwick’s 5,280-square-foot John Gearen ’32 Library. The cleared-out space has paved the way for a modern, Digital Resource Room that features Apple TVs, 48-inch monitors, an interactive projector and a 65-inch Clevertouch interactive panel.

The library’s new Digital Resource Room features Apple TVs, 48-inch monitors, an interactive projector and a 65-inch Clevertouch interactive panel.

“The new room was used in many ways this past school year,” reports Digital Learning Specialist Bryan Boehm. Students collaborated for projects in class and tutored their peers there. “[English Teacher] Mary Marcotte used it to compare and contrast the different variations of Beowulf translations,” Boehm notes, “and Dave Kleinhans had students show their final projects for computer science in the Digital Resource Room.”

On the Computer Science academic front this past school year (2017-18), Friars’ teachers taught four sections of the aforementioned, foundational CS class with a total of about 80 students. “Five or six years ago, there were maybe six kids in each [intro] class for a total of 24 students,” notes Mr. Kleinhans, who came to Fenwick following a 20-year career as a successful software-industry executive and also has taught math during his decade with the Friars. Program-wide, approximately 17% of young Friars – nearly 200 students — now are enrolled in Fenwick’s computer-science offerings.

Students in Mr. Roche’s class wrote code to create an app for playing Blackjack.

Kleinhans and his math, science and IT (information technology) colleagues have been busy revamping the Friars’ CS curriculum to more closely align with modern tech. “With so many students going into engineering and business, we made some changes to prepare them better for the workforce,” explains Math Teacher and alumnus Kevin Roche ’05, a 2009 environmental-engineering graduate from the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign).

“We work [hard] … to make sure that the courses we create, along with the sequence, are part of leading practices,” adds Kleinhans, a fellow Illini alumnus. Fenwick Principal Peter Groom notes that substantial internal and external collaboration goes into making curriculum decisions and changes. “We are not myopic in our development,” Groom explains. “In addition to obtaining input from our own faculty, we have partnered with OTCR Consulting,” the University of Illinois’ engineering and business consultancy comprised of top-tier students primarily from the Colleges of Engineering and Business. “The OTCR organization has provided us with a lot of valuable information and has made recommendations for Fenwick, many of which we’ve run with,” he says.

Jacob Marchetti ‘19 plays a “Flappy Bird” video game made by Fenwick young alumni Colleen Lawlor ’16 and Henry Lorenzini ‘16 in Computer Science class two years ago.

Most course proposals from 2017 have been implemented. A Computer Skills for Business class was rolled out this past academic calendar. “We focused mostly on teaching programming for Microsoft Excel in VB [Visual Basic], so that students have some coding exposure,” reports Mr. Roche (below, standing), who also coaches girls’ cross country/track and moderates Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics, and Science (TEAMS). Post-college, he practiced for a few years as a consultant before returning to Fenwick and has since earned a master’s in teaching from Dominican University in River Forest, IL. In his Computer Skills for Business class, exercises include a module called “College Expenses,” which has students research and tabulate the cost of their top four to six schools. “Survey Charts” has them look up demographic data and break down their income according to identified ethnicity. “We also worked with the Reyes Company to have kids create their own workforce and, considering sales, determine their employees’ commissions,” Roche says.

“There is still a post-AP CS course that has not yet been developed,” he adds. This year, senior Colleen Corcoran ’18 did independent study of a college CS course out of the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago. (Ms. Corcoran is headed to Saint Louis University this coming fall.) “We have yet to develop an in-house course, however, for the students to continue to pursue computer science material after the AP [Advanced Placement] course,” Roche says.

In the near future, Kleinhans envisions such a post-AP class for kids interested in becoming CS engineers, while acknowledging that they are a relatively small set of Fenwick’s overall student population. Continuing to partner with a university (such as IIT) may be the answer or, perhaps, some type of online offering.

In his opinion, Fenwick’s next area of investment should focus on more classroom and laboratory spaces as well as upgraded electric systems. He would like to create a lab-based CS curriculum for the “do-ers” who thrive with more hands-on learning.

Incoming senior Thomas Georgiev ’19 works with the school’s 3D printer up in the “Bell Tower” classroom.

High up in the school’s bell-tower classroom, Math Teacher Dave Setum has assembled a make-shift, DIY (do-it-yourself) “makerspace” of sorts, which includes etching tools, a laser cutter and a 3D printer with Maya three-dimensional rendering software for computerized animation. Mr. Setum, who teaches courses in CAD/CAM (computer-aided design/manufacturing) and technical drafting as well as calculus, completed his undergraduate degree in mathematics and philosophy at the University of Wisconsin (Madison) and earned a master’s in teaching from National-Louis University in Chicago. He is looking forward to students having access to 25 new Dell personal computers (PCs), with robust video cards, in his drafting classes this coming 2018-19 school year.

Last Christmas, students in Mr. Dave Setum’s class used the laser cutter to manufacture wooden ornaments for Fenwick’s faculty and staff.

More powerful computer hard drives aside, colleague Kleinhans voices his concerns that, while well-intentioned, the Bell Tower Classroom could be so much better. “Dave really needs a dedicated, formalized makerspace/lab type of learning environment for his students’ technical design and drawing endeavors,” Kleinhans contends.

Beyond social media

Kleinhans also believes that all Friars’ students should take at least one semester of Computer Science, adding that the University of Dayton’s School of Business Administration requires its students to obtain certificates for Microsoft’s Excel database/spreadsheet program. He cites the example of Fenwick young alumnus Carlos Soto ’14, who recently graduated from Dayton (Ohio) and is working as a part-time business analyst for Deloitte Global. With all of his programming and Excel experience in high school, Soto felt well-prepared for the rigors of college. Such exposure and preparedness are key for Fenwick students, in Kleinhans’ opinion. “It helps to be ready,” he says.

Tinkering with Fenwick’s Computer Science curriculum is an evolutionary process. Two years ago there was a recommendation for an AP (Advanced Placement) CS Principles course that would include such topics as the Internet, Big Data/privacy, programming and algorithms. “However, we are no longer pursuing this because we now have a more rigorous course in Computer Science A,” explains Math Teacher and alumnus Ray Kotty ’85, who also attended undergrad at U of I.

The bottom line is that “our students need tech skills beyond Snapchat,” Kleinhans jests. But seriously: in the work force, specific skills translate to productivity in today’s corporate and high-tech/IT worlds. Employment recruiters and hiring managers “go to the ‘Skills’ section of the résumé,” he points out. “They’re looking for things like Excel, SAP [software experience] and apps [building] skills.”

CAD/CAM Teacher Mr. Setum (left) and student Thomas Georgiev ’19 install a tube in Fenwick’s laser-cutting machine.

Heading into the third decade of the 21st century, jobs have changed — and so has college, he adds. Approximately one in four Fenwick students are on the “STEM” track of Science, Technology, Engineering and/or Mathematics, according to the Student Services Dept. “Prototyping skills are required for these kids. Where will they do that?” Kleinhans asks.

Meanwhile, Fenwick’s latest hardware investments are set for mid-July installments, as leasing agreements for 15 office PCs have expired. The aforementioned new PCs in the Math Lab replace four- and five-year-old OptiPlex 7010 models. While intensive CPUs/GPUs may solve the problem of frequent lag times and system crashing that plague many of today’s students, upgraded technology won’t change what Fenwick has been for the past 90 years and will continue to be: a rigorous, liberal-arts academic institution with sharp foci on English, history, mathematics and theology.

Jacob Marchetti ’19 (left) and Jack Vomacka ’18 enjoy a Tron game made in CS class by former Fenwick student Patrick Ebzery in 2016.

Technology, after all, is a tool. “Our faculty develops humans and makes children into leaders,” points out Science Department Co-Chair Marcus McKinley, who received a bachelor of arts degree from Carleton College in Northfield, MN, and a master’s in chemistry from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. “We at Fenwick are experts in college prep, and we are not revising our thinking as to who and what we are,” he insists. “Fenwick never has indiscriminately shifted with the winds of change. The school has evolved and constantly strives to be the premier college-prep institution. The end goal still is to mold empathetic people who can think critically.”

Artist’s rendering of Fenwick’s future facility plans heading into the 2029 centennial year.

There always is room for improvement. “Of course we can make Fenwick even better than it already is,” McKinley stresses. “And to do that, we need equipment; we need facilities upgrades; and we need infrastructure.” Stay tuned in, techies. And in the meantime, please consider donating to Excellence, Leadership, Tradition: The Centennial Capital Campaign for Fenwick High School.

Friars Abroad: My Ecuador Experience with ROMP

A Fenwick young alumna shares details about five days in South America with the Range of Motion Project (ROMP), during which her team built 18 prosthetic limbs for amputees.

By Jane Farrell ’16

Jane with Team ROMP in Ecuador.

One of the most remarkable things about Fenwick High School is its alumni network. I remember being in Paris with my family when my older brother [Social Studies Department Chair, Varsity Football Defensive Coordinator and alumnus Alex Holmberg ’05] was stopped by a Fenwick alum that recognized the shield on his shirt. Not only is the Fenwick alumni network far-reaching, but it is also high-accomplishing. This past May, I got the incredible opportunity to serve amputees in Quito, Ecuador, thanks to a high-accomplishing Fenwick alum. I never would have gotten to go on this inspiring trip had it not been for the faith I have in the quality of Fenwick’s alumni network.

As a rising junior in the biomedical engineering program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I wanted to spend my summer doing something within my desired career field. One of my classes at UNC piqued my interest in the prosthetics field, so I shadowed a prosthetist at Shriner’s Children Hospital in December. I was inspired to continue exploring the prosthetics field, and a family friend and fellow Friar fan [past/present Fenwick parent], Kate Nikolai, recommended that I check out ROMP, the Range of Motion Project. She told me that it was an organization that worked with amputees in Ecuador and Guatemala. The best part was that that one of the co-founders, David Krupa, is a fellow Fenwick alum (Class of ’98).

As I looked into ROMP, I realized it was the perfect trip for me. ROMP’s mission is to provide high-quality prosthetic care in under-served populations, which enhances mobility and unlocks human potential. Through ROMP, volunteers can travel to Ecuador or Guatemala for the opportunity to work with local prosthetists and patients. The incredible thing about ROMP is that volunteers get to be heavily involved in the entire prosthetic process — from the casting of the patient to the device delivery to the physical therapy work.

Jesus and Jane

My personal experience with ROMP was nothing short of life changing. In May, I traveled to Quito, Ecuador by myself. I knew no one on this trip, but knowing that a fellow Friar would be there was comforting.

We worked in a local clinic, Fundacion Hermano Miquel, for five days serving 16 patients. I personally worked with two patients, Jesús and Carlos. Obviously, Jesús is pronounced like the Spanish name and not like Jesus Christ, but I don’t find it a coincidence that they share a spelling as my patient Jesús was an absolute ray of sunshine and reminded me of the importance of serving others. Even though he lived in severe poverty, he always offered to buy me a Coke with what little money he had.

Jesús was a below-knee amputee while Carlos was an above-knee amputee. Over the course of five days, myself and two other volunteers worked closely with an Ecuadorian prosthetist to build two brand-new prosthetics for these men. Both Jesús and Carlos lost their limbs in car accidents and were in desperate need of prosthetic care. Being able to provide them with the care they needed was extremely rewarding, and I will forever remember the lessons I learned from these two inspirational men.

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